Midnight in Altona

What must it be like for her, you wonder, when the darkness engulfs a lonely home? Is this it, what the years of hack work and sacrifice were all about, the dividend accruing from all those unpalatable alliances and timely betrayals? She is alone now, cut loose and abandoned, in a place no thermostat can warm, with only a smart phone’s muted purr to serve for human contact. It’s midnight and dawn is a memory, no longer a prospect. How long to go? One hundred days-and-shrinking, but the voices babbling on the telly, even on her very own ABC, continue to speak as one. There will be no light between now and then.

Except from the mobile, which glows briefly in the gloom to announce tomorrow’s texted talking points. At least the Scotsman is still on the job even as the men of little faith pack up their offices and tap the networks of campus mates and think-tankers in quest of comfy sinecures. No need for her to check that purring phone and scan the next day’s script. It will be more of the same, and familiarity will make it no great challenge to get the latest lines down pat.

It’s his fault, that bastard across the dispatch box, always his fault. The mantra never varies, except for the volume. But shrieked and snarled, or whispered to the latest batch of mummy bloggers favoured with her presence, it matters not, because the damn message just won’t stick. It is dark and getting darker, and she is her own last and true believer.

It requires an effort of will, of supreme belief in self, but she can still believe – she has to believe — that miracles will happen, despite the trail of flops and stumbles, of lies and waste and the necessary deceits her enemies never tire of flinging at her feet.  From burning roofs to drowning Afghans, none to her eyes are failures of principle or competence, just petty mishaps one and all, blown out of proportion by Rupert Murdoch’s imps and the hate media’s misogynists. Now there is the sorry mess of asbestos pits and this latest broadband business, which truth be told she never really grasped.

The web at the speed of light, that was the slogan, but what did it really mean? Life-saving diagnoses in the desert, smarter kids and better teaching — well that was the message the ad men were being paid to pitch.  Down the street and around the corner, behind a million shaded windows and closed doors, the little people she thought she knew so well would be able to view their porn and action flicks without a hiccup. Fifty billion dollars is quite the sum to pay for access to instant videos of piano-playing cats, but who can put a price on votes or vision, especially when the two had always been so thoroughly intertwined? Damn them, those outer suburban trolls, too dim to recognise the gifts she had given them in and of herself.

She had laid before them her treasures of tinsel and sheen, a 30-month circus of attractions and distractions, and their gratitude was to be a September mugging, for that is what all the latest numbers say. Why did her parents bring her to such an ungrateful land? Amusements for the masses – they  should have kept the little people occupied while the greatest minds since Gough regulated the future for one and  all, which is no less than what those born to rule are supposed to do. She and her fellow smart ones had known from childhood that power would be their destiny. Yet where was the applause, the deference and respect? There was none of that, the polls insisted, only an impatience to see her gone.

If bribery didn’t work then terror might. She had done her best to scare ’em half to death, especially the kids, with tales of endless droughts and fires and starving polar bears, and she had put big money into it, too. Research that was bought and paid for, a raving palaeontologist on a $1200 per diem to preach the horrors of an incinerated planet, and all of it packaged and presented by a press so tame and beholdin’ there were times when even she was amazed by its docility.

That messy business with the old boyfriend, his fleeced funds and how she had been fired from her law firm, it prompted scarce little curiosity. So, too, the Fitzroy terrace and her ex-lover’s dubious power of attorney, not to mention the free front fence, and by the word of a former associate, at least one sly envelope stuffed with union cash. Yet the Fourth Estate had barely raised an eyebrow. Yes, there had been dissenters, but mostly she had stomped them into silence, if only temporarily.

Even in the gloom she could smile at the clout and privilege her office conveyed, which is what wielding power is all about. A couple of Saturday morning phone calls and talk of regulation, that was all it took for querulous media executives to fire one troublesome reporter and banish another from the airwaves. Now that was impressive.  Leave it to a strong woman if you want to get things done!

The phone flickered to life once more, purring briefly to announce the Scotsman’s latest take on the state of play. Rumblings here, there and all over, is his latest update. Knots of anxious faces falling silent as he walks by, that’s what he is seeing. She is safe, still safe, he advises, because only a few of the corridor gossips are returning his gaze direct. Brutus and Cassius looked Caesar in the eye when their blades slammed home, but this lot were for the most part still staring at their shoes. Your enemies remain too scared to strike, she reads, and once again hope flickers.

Time for a bedtime cocoa, with no need any longer to get out that second cup. Alone these last and final days with only ambition and frustration as her companions, she watches the days tick down and the darkness closing in, but still with the will to snarl at the dispatch box and spit a bit more venom.

His fault. Always his fault. Not hers. Never hers.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online

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